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Forge New Ways in Avodat Hashem

Nov 17, 2011

"Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his household who controlled all that was his" (Bereishit 24:2), and with that Avraham sent Eliezer on the mission of finding the proper mate for Yitzchak Avinu.  Chazal explain that he was referred to as "elder" not only due to his age, but his wisdom - he was a chacham.  Chazal teach us that in many instances the word zaken refers to one who has acquired wisdom.  "Who controlled all that what his" - Chazal explain that he knew all of the Torah of his Rebbe.  Clearly Eliezer was an important man, a talmid chacham. 


When Eliezer was sent on the mission to find a wife for Rivkah, he replied: "perhaps the woman will not follow me?" (ibid. 39).  The word "ulai" in this instance is spelled without the usual letter vav between the aleph and the lamed.  This was the name of Eliezer's daughter.  Eliezer wished for his daughter to marry Yitzchak, after all she was the daughter of a talmid chacham - what better shidduch can we find for Rivkah.  Avraham's answer was absolutely not in no uncertain terms: "You are an arur and my son is a baruch and an arur does not cleave to a baruch.  Avraham did not find any defect in the daughter of Eliezer, rather her father Eliezer in as arur, and arur and baruch do not go hand in hand.  I believe that arur and baruch means something beyond cursed and blessed, but arur means it has no ability to grow whereas baruch is something which has the ability to grow greater and greater.  Something which cannot grow cannot bond with that which does not have the ability to grow.  Often in the Torah, something is blessed when it has the potential and achieves further growth.


What became of Eliezer?  There are two conflicting midrashim - one midrash states that Eliezer was among those who went straight to Gan Eden while still alive.  A conflicting midrash teaches us that Eliezer later became Og Melech HaBashan who was killed by Moshe Rabenu.  Both midrashim agree on one point - Eliezer was unable to survive in a world without Avraham Avinu for he had not achieved his own ability to grow - he was an arur.   Avraham's Torah, on the other hand, stemmed from his own abilities.  Eliezer either went straight to Gan Eden or became the rasha Og Melech HaBashan.  Avraham Avinu wanted his son to have his own abilities, to be able to come up with his own Torah insights.


Next week we are going to read in Parshat Toldot: "Yitzchak dug anew the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Avraham his father and the Plishtim had stopped them up after Avraham's death; and he called them by the same names that his father had called them" (Bereishit 26:18).  Yitzchak Avinu resurrected the wells which the Plishtim had covered with earth.  The wells here refer to much more than the physical wells used for drinking, but also to the spiritual wells - the batei midrash which Avraham Avinu had built.  The Plishtim tried to destroy the spirituality which Avraham Avinu had built, and Yitzchak rebuilt it.  What happened after Yitzchak Avinu had rebuilt the wells?  The Torah writes: "Yitzchak's servants dug in the valley and found there a well of fresh water" (ibid. 19).  Yitzchak not only rebuilt that which Avraham had built and was destroyed, but forged new ways in avodat Hashem.


In our Shmone Esrei we refer to Hashem as "Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, veElokei Yaakov" - Hashem was the G-d of each of them, not all in the same manner.  Avraham Avinu understood Hashem in one manner, Yitzchak added another insight, and Yaakov even more.  We therefore mention all three.  Eliezer did not have his own manner of serving Hashem, he simply followed what he had learned from Avraham Avinu.


Avraham Avinu sent Eliezer to bring a wife for Yitzchak Avinu.  What did the servant do?  Upon arrival in Aram Naharayim he immediately stopped to pray to Hashem for help in finding a wife for Yitzchak Avinu.  Hashem accepted his prayer immediately - "and it was when he had not yet finished speaking that suddenly Rivkah was coming out" (Bereishit 24:15).   Eliezer had not even finished his prayer when Hashem had already answered his prayer - what an incredible level he must have been on for Hashem to accept a tefilla before he was even finished.  The prayer clearly was not mere lip service, but from the depths of his soul.  He prayed with all his heart to find the right woman for Yitzchak Avinu.


I would like to add another facet of the greatness of Eliezer's prayer - he prayed with all his fervor for something which he did not want with a full heart.  We mentioned earlier that Eliezer had wanted his own daughter to marry Yitzchak - he went against his own wishes and prayed with great fervor to fulfill the wishes of his master Avraham.  Eliezer was a loyal servant and did not let his own desires get in the way of wanting to fulfill the will of his master.


However, Chazal teach us that the pasuk: "Canaan with scales of deceit in his hand, who loves to cheat" (Hoshea 12:8) refers to Eliezer (Bereishis 59:9).  This midrash understood Eliezer as if coming with false weights - he wished to sabotage the future of Klal Yisrael by having his daughter marry Yitzchak.  Eliezer's wish was for his daughter to marry Yitzchak.  Eliezer had what is known as negiot - he was not a disinterested party - his weights favored one side over the other and he was therefore not able to be a true judge.


One with an interest is unable to judge properly as we find many stories in the Gemara regarding dayanim who disqualified themselves from judging because they had some interest, no matter how minute.  Chazal teach us: "a judge should always view himself as if he had a sword resting between his thighs and Gehinom is open underneath him"(Sanhedrin 7a), why specifically between his thighs?  For a turn too far to the right will result in a cut in his left leg, while a turn too far to the left will result in a cut in his right leg - one must only follow the straight path.   A person must follow the straight path, not too far to the right or too far to the left. 


Following the chet haegel Moshe Rabenu said to the tribe of Levi: "so said Hashem, G-d of Israel, 'every man, put his sword on his thigh and pass back and forth from gate to gate in the camp.  Let every man kill his brother, every man his fellow, and every man his near one'" (Shmot 32:27).  Moshe Rabenu was instructing the people of Levi to act as judges, as if each of their swords was in between their thighs - not to be too stringent and not to be too lenient.  Rav Yisrael Salanter zt"l would say that this idea of feeling the sword between our thighs and not veering too far one way or the other is not limited to judges but to every one of us.  Every person is his own judge, there are many times a person has questions and must judge.  He must view his decisions as if he is a judge with a sharp sword between his thighs - do not be too lenient when it is not called for, do not be too strict when that is not called for.  This can be very difficult, a person has his own interests which may interfere - he maywish for the psak to come out a certain way.  There are times of course when it is important to seek the guidance of a talmid chacham, but there isn't always one available at the precise moment you are seeking one.


Life is full of big decisions - should you continue in Yeshiva, whom should you marry?  A person should be his own judge and make sure to follow the ways of Hashem, not too far to the right and not too far to the left.  Chazal teach us that when Yoseph was faced with the nisayon with the wife of Potiphar, he came very close to sinning - perhaps she was right and this was the right thing to do.  What saved him?  He saw the face of his father Yaakov Avinu.  What does it mean that he saw his father's image?  Rav Dessler explains that he saw Yaakov's midda of truth - emet, as it says titen emet leYaakov.  Yoseph realized that to sin with the wife of Potiphar was wrong because he now viewed events through the lens of emet.  Life is full of difficult decisions, but must be viewed through the lens of emet.


The parsha of Eliezer teaches us not to follow our own will but to seek the truth, to view things through the lens of emet, of yirat Shamayim.  We are our own judges and must strive to do what is right.


We must strive to follow in the ways of Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov and to forge new ways in avodat Hashem - not to be an Eliezer who is simply a follower.  We must asked kushyot on what we are learning and come up with our own terutzim.  If we do not understand the first time then we must strive again and again.  To be mechadesh will help us gain a deeper understanding.  B'ezrat Hashem we will all come to the realization that we are judges, strive to make decisions seeking only the truth and follow the ways of Hashem and in that way bring about the arrival of the Moshiach, speedily in our day. Amen.

Venue: Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh


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